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Road To Reopening: How MT Wichita Responded To The Pandemic, Kansas Weather, & More!

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The theater has been producing five Broadway scale musicals each summer since 1972.

Road To Reopening: How MT Wichita Responded To The Pandemic, Kansas Weather, & More!

BroadwayWorld is checking in with theaters around the country as they prepare to reopen this summer. Next in our series we check in with MT Wichita's Managing Director Angela Cassette and Artistic Director Brian J. Marcum.

Brian is very honored to join the MTW team. Music Theatre Wichita was Brian's training ground as a member of the resident ensemble while in college at Oklahoma City University. Soon after, he moved to NYC and continued to work in regional theatres across the country as well as national tours. Eventually, Brian made is Broadway debut in the original cast of The Gershwins' Fascinating Rhythm. Continuing his Broadway career, Brian performed in the original cast of Saturday Night Fever, the TONY award winning revival of 42nd Street and The Boy from Oz, starring Hugh Jackman. Director/Choreographer Casey Nicholaw then asked Brian to be a replacement in the Broadway casts of Spamalot and The Drowsy Chaperone and later asked to be his Associate Choreographer for the Broadway debut of the holiday hit of ELF- The Musical. Brian performed multiple times for Radio City Music Hall, both in the Christmas show and the Spring Spectacular, as well as, the TONY Awards CBS telecast and the Macy's Thanksgiving Day parade. For the past 10 years, Brian has been an educator, first as an Associate Professor in the Ann Lacy School of American Dance and Entertainment at Oklahoma City University and most recently in the Drama Department at Syracuse University. He continues to direct and choreograph across the country but is happy to make home base Wichita with his wife Jennifer and their two children Sophie and Felix.

Angela joined the Music Theatre Wichita staff as Development Director in 2013 and began her Managing Director role in 2019. Previously, she was Artistic Operations Director of The Florida Orchestra and General Manager of the Omaha Symphony. She loves working with donors and friends of MTWichita to create incredible art and educational opportunities for the Wichita community! Angela is a graduate of Vanderbilt University and Arizona State University. She and her husband, trumpet player and WSU Professor David Hunsicker, have two sons, Noah & Luke.

What has your theater's staff been up to over the past year?

AC: We have been so busy! Early in the pandemic we welcomed new Artistic Director Brian J. Marcum. We created a lot of digital programming, a new membership program, kept up with all the grants, filmed a holiday special for television, and then went right into planning a reimagined 2021 season, with seven productions taking place in outdoor spaces or very large indoor spaces.

Road To Reopening: How MT Wichita Responded To The Pandemic, Kansas Weather, & More!

How has the pandemic most affected your company?

AC: Our 2020 summer season was cancelled, of course, so it was a year of no live programming for our audiences, no summer work for the theatrical technicians, stagehands, musicians, and actors we typically hire. There's no making up for the negative impact of all of that on our organization or on individuals. Also, as we look forward - the worst has already happened, and so we feel bold about making change where needed.

Have you done any streaming theatre/events?

BJM: Our online content included: Flashback Fridays - looking back at productions that were crowd and staff favorites; Wayne Wednesdays - Producing Director Wayne Bryan gave theatrical history lessons; Masterclass Mondays - cast and crew alumni gave classes on their field of expertise; and Martini Mondays with our esteemed music director Thomas W. Douglas - he sang songs and led us in the martini making. I created a dance series (Steppin' Time) with my daughter that was given to homeschoolers, music and theatre teachers and anyone who had little children at home that needed a break from school. We developed an Online Academy with various offerings for older teens through adults. We filmed two alumni concerts to stream, and then our biggest endeavor was producing the "MTWichita Holiday Special" - a throwback to the old holiday specials but with a modern twist. That was shown on our local PBS station and also available through our website.

What have the audience reactions to your digital programming been like?

AC: Response to free digital programming has been very strong. It's helped us stay connected with patrons and donors, and even serve our communities in new ways. But it's not a major new stream of revenue.

What have you got coming up you're most excited to share with audiences?

BJM: After the huge successes of our outdoor concert version of Smokey Joe's Cafe in April and the Jeremy Stolle concert "No More Talk of Darkness" in May we are looking forward to our first indoor production of Mirette in mid-June. Following that we are have a star-studded salute to America and Broadway with "Red, White and Broadway" outdoors with a fireworks finale! In August we return indoors to celebrate us - our 50 year anniversary with "Golden: MTWichita at 50." This concert will feature notable alums that started in our resident ensemble and have gone on to have careers on Broadway. In September we are returning outdoors for Grease (the first time it has ever been on an MTWichita stage) and our last show will be Twelfth Night - indoors in November - a stellar cast with amazing music telling this classic tale.

How did your venue come up with a reopening plan/covid safety plan?

AC: Our first ventures into live performance have been outside, and concerts. Outside we are requiring masks in common spaces for audiences, and we have distanced pods spray painted on the lawn of the amphitheater where we are performing. Keeping actors and backstage personnel safe was the most complicated, but we've studied and followed the rules set out by Actors Equity, IATSE, and other unions. There were three pieces that really made everything come together: 1) We have an AEA stage manager turned year-round member of our administrative staff, and she was able to take the principles and build it all out logistically, while simultaneously handling a ton of marketing and communications details; 2) We have a great testing partner out here in Wichita State, and they turned around testing for us very quickly; 3) We also brought in a terrific Infection Control Specialist for our first venture. He helped set policy and ensure that protocols were applied consistently.

Will there be any adjustments in capacity or seating/vaccination or testing requirements?

AC: We have made major adjustments in capacity (we are using only 20-25% of full capacity), and through June at least will require masking (always in indoor spaces, in common spaces when outdoors). We currently have testing requirements for cast, stagehands, full time staff, etc., and we are strongly encouraging vaccinations for all those who are eligible.

Road To Reopening: How MT Wichita Responded To The Pandemic, Kansas Weather, & More!

Will there be any changes to the on-stage aspects of the shows in response to the pandemic?

Yes, with the Smokey Joe's concert we created a bubble and took all the necessary protocols, including mask wearing, social distancing, testing, and 8 ft staging boundaries. Every show the protocols change and as we plan we adapt. Mirette will again will be staged with social distancing guidelines and no one touching. Lots of testing and mask wearing but as things shift we will too.

Were there any COVID considerations in programming the upcoming season - selecting titles, etc?

Yes. We knew that we could still do a tremendous version of Smokey Joe's, concert-style, that wouldn't suffer from social distancing because it was about the voices and nine people spaced out at an outdoor venue was possible. Mirette is a small cast as well and will not suffer from the social distancing aspect of the show. We are hopeful by the time we get to our 50th Anniversary show, Grease, and Twelfth Night, we'll be able to have actors closer together, but if we can't - we know we can adapt.

Will there be any changes to your ticketing policies, flexible rescheduling, etc?

AC: Our first two outdoor concert productions, we were battling Kansas weather, so we did lots of flexibility in scheduling! Our box office is working hard to make all possible accommodations, though we are a bit limited by capacity. It's a year when it's a great idea to get tickets early to ensure preferred date and time!

What are you most looking forward to?

BJM: Being back in the room with actors creating.

How have you remained engaged with your audience about the return to the stage?

AC: We have very enthusiastic, very eager audiences, and they've responded wonderfully about the outdoor experiences we've provided so far. I think we all have an even greater appreciation for each other, and the chance to do this work together!

How can audience members learn more and stay up to date?

BJM: You can find out all you need to know by going to MTWichita.org and following us on Instagram @mtwichita and Facebook at Music Theatre Wichita.


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